The Rime of the Postmodern Mariner

More ramblings of Rhys Hughes.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Bad Mr Naipaul

Let's state the obvious first: women are equal to men. They deserve equal rights and opportunities and pay. This is a self-evident truth.

Now let's consider the recent fuss that has followed the comments of V.S. Naipaul that no female writer is his match: he claims that prose written by women is narrow and only sentimental, that it fails to engage with big themes in the way that his own work does. Basically, he has asserted the superiority of his fiction over that of any female writer.

It was a silly thing to say. Naipaul is intelligent enough to have anticipated the negative reaction to his comments, so one can only assume that he wanted to stir up trouble. And yes, the reaction has been strong... Male writers have been especially eager to lambast him, almost as if they were waiting for something like this to happen: the perfect opportunity to prove their own maturity while girls are watching.

One of the problems with the writing world (and I say this as an insider) is that there are too many people who are desperate to conform, to remain on good terms with everyone, to say only safe, bland, acceptable things, never to rock the boat, to protect their own (paltry and illusory) reputations, to be the ultimate sycophants, to be perfect tactical twats... In such an environment, Naipaul's attitude might actually come over as refreshing. Entirely wrong in factual detail but entertaining in spirit.

I can't stand misogynists, racists, homophobes, xenophobes, etc, but maturity wankers aren't far behind in my personal list of undesirables. It's easy to ape public outrage and make all the right grand gestures of defiance when there are no real consequences, when the target is so distant it's almost an abstraction; but it's much harder to fight for those tiny incremental changes that really do make a difference. I wish that some of the men who stamp their feet theatrically on behalf of women when there is no chance of making a difference would instead do something small but useful in an arena where they do have some influence.

Let's put Naipaul's recent comments into true perspective. Imagine if he had said that no male writers were his equal. The resultant fuss would have been small or nonexistent. Let's also imagine that he had simply stated that no writers (of any sort) could match him. We simply would have chuckled at his eccentricity -- "Ho! Ho! What's that old egotist up to now, eh?" -- before carrying on with our business. So why shouldn't we ignore his comments now? It's quite easy.

I recently made a list of my 50 favourite writers ever. Not one woman made that list. Does this mean I'm a misogynist? It surely must! But wait a moment... In a list of my ten favourite artists, the first seven names were female. I'm in awe of Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, etc. So really it's just a question of taste, not of politics. We must never forget this.


Blogger Stephen Theaker said...

It was kind of odd in particular to see so much outrage about Naipaul from horror writers, when there was not a whisper of complaint about Stephen Jones's fairly similar comments in BS19 - male horror writers working at a "superior" level and all that.

And I think one writer called Naipaul an oompah-loompah, which IMHO was flat-out racist.

4:00 AM  
Blogger rhysaurus said...

Yes, Stephen, that is odd...

Or maybe it's not so odd. After all, fledgling horror writers don't have anything to lose by "attacking" V.S. Naipaul in the defence of women: there will be no negative consequences for them.

But if they "attack" Stephen Jones on the same issue... well, it might damage their efforts to network with him (with the ultimate aim of appearing in one of his anthologies).

The name for that kind of behaviour is tactical twatism...

3:22 AM  

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